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J Neurophysiol. 2008 Jan;99(1):356-66. Epub 2007 Nov 7.

Development of thalamocortical response transformations in the rat whisker-barrel system.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology, Univiversity of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


Extracellular single-unit recordings were used to characterize responses of thalamic barreloid and cortical barrel neurons to controlled whisker deflections in 2, 3-, and 4-wk-old and adult rats in vivo under fentanyl analgesia. Results indicate that response properties of thalamic and cortical neurons diverge during development. Responses to deflection onsets and offsets among thalamic neurons mature in parallel, whereas among cortical neurons responses to deflection offsets become disproportionately smaller with age. Thalamic neuron receptive fields become more multiwhisker, whereas those of cortical neurons become more single-whisker. Thalamic neurons develop a higher degree of angular selectivity, whereas that of cortical neurons remains constant. In the temporal domain, response latencies decrease both in thalamic and cortical neurons, but the maturation time-course differs between the two populations. Response latencies of thalamic cells decrease primarily between 2 and 3 wk of life, whereas response latencies of cortical neurons decrease in two distinct steps--the first between 2 and 3 wk of life and the second between the fourth postnatal week and adulthood. Although the first step likely reflects similar subcortical changes, the second phase likely corresponds to developmental myelination of thalamocortical fibers. Divergent development of thalamic and cortical response properties indicates that thalamocortical circuits in the whisker-to-barrel pathway undergo protracted maturation after 2 wk of life and provides a potential substrate for experience-dependent plasticity during this time.

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